In this self-help course for depression, we’ll learn the most effective ways to manage and treat depression. We’ll look at how we become depressed, and the symptoms of depression and how they affect us. And then we’ll explore various ways to relieve and recover from depression, with a focus on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression and mindfulness-based approaches to treating depression.
Coping With Depression: What To Do If You’re Depressed
This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.
In this video we’re going to look at what happens when we’re depressed: how depression affects our moods, thoughts, behaviors and bodies. And then we’ll explore what we can do and what needs to happen in order to relieve our depression so we can start to feel better.
So the main thing that usually comes to mind when we think of depression is a depressed mood, which is a feeling of prolonged sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. And while depression is a mood disorder it affects much more than just our moods. Depression also affects our thoughts and our cognitive abilities. We can experience an endless stream of negative thoughts. And we can find it difficult to focus or concentrate which can interfere with our ability to work or get things done or even carry on a conversation.
Depression also affects our behaviors. When we’re depressed we can lose interest in doing most of the things we used to enjoy. And it can be difficult to motivate ourselves to do anything because we have no desire or lack the energy to do them. And when we do do things they’re not as enjoyable as they used to be, and they don’t give us that much pleasure.
And depression affects our bodies. We can experience aches and pains or uncomfortable feelings in various parts of our bodies. And we can feel sluggish and slowed down. And everything feels so hard because we’re so tired or worn out or just don’t have any energy.
Depression doesn’t just affect each of these elements independently of one another. When we’re depressed they all act together, influencing and interacting with one another, through a series of vicious cycles and downward spirals, that maintain and prolong depression and can leave us feeling even more depressed. So let’s take a look at how this works.
Our moods have a big influence on our thoughts. And when we’re feeling sad or depressed, we tend to have a lot of very negative thoughts. And at the same time if we’re having a lot of negative thoughts, it leaves us feeling depressed. And so we get a vicious cycle, where the more depressed we are, the more negative our thoughts. And the more negative our thoughts, the more depressed we feel.
And so when we’re depressed we can get caught up in this vicious cycle between our moods and how we feel and all of these negative thoughts that can pull us into a downward spiral and leave us feeling even more depressed.
And our moods have a big impact on our behavior. If we’re feeling sad or depressed we often don’t feel like doing anything. But the more inactive we become and the less we do, and especially the less we participate in activities we used to enjoy and the less social interaction we have, the more depressed we feel; which makes it harder to get ourselves to do things; so we do even less; and we become even more depressed.
And there are similar relationships going on between our thoughts and our behavior. And also between our moods and our bodies. And our thoughts and our bodies. And our bodies and our behaviors.
And these sorts of relationships and vicious cycles aren’t limited to just two aspects of our experiences at a time. They can all act together, creating a big vicious cycle, which is one of the reasons depression can feel so overwhelming, and so hard to recover from. So for example, we’re feeling down, we have a depressed mood, so we have a negative thought.
And this thought has a negative effect on our moods and our behavior, each of which lead to more negative thoughts, and maybe affect us physically as well; which then negatively influences our behavior making us feel even worse; and generating more negative thoughts, and so on. And any one negative thing in any of these areas reverberates throughout the whole system and sets off this cascade of other negative experiences that leave us feeling more depressed.
But the flip side of this is that any positive change in just one area regardless of how small, leads to positive changes in the other areas as well, which then generate further positive changes, and so on, reversing this negative feedback loop and helping us start to feel better. So how do we do this? How do we start to reverse this cycle?
In cognitive behavioral therapy we focus on changing our thoughts and our behaviors. And these are usually the two main things that we need to change in order to start feeling better. Our thoughts have to become less negative. And we need to become more active and engage in behaviors that improve our moods and promote recovery instead of contributing to our depression.
Now sometimes we can also change the situation that’s triggered our depression, but it’s not always possible to change these situations, whereas we do have some agency over our thoughts and behaviors. And it’s not even always clear what situations have triggered our depression. So back to our thoughts and behaviors.
If we can change the way we think and modify our thoughts to make them less negative and pessimistic, we change the way we feel and we become less depressed. This can also have a positive effect on our behaviors as well.
And if we can change our behaviors and become a little more active, start doing things we used to do, and find some enjoyment in these activities, then our moods begin to improve, and our thoughts become less negative and we start to feel less depressed.
With mindfulness we don’t try to change things directly like we do in cbt. For example we’re not concerned with trying to modify our negative thoughts. Instead we change how we relate to our experiences. And this allows us to react differently to our negative experiences in ways that prevent things from escalating and disrupt the connections that generate the vicious cycles that can leave us feeling so depressed.
When we’re mindful of our thoughts, instead of trying to change the content of our thoughts, we change how we relate to our thoughts. We just become aware of our thoughts, acknowledge them, and then if our thoughts aren’t related to what we’re doing at the time, we don’t need to give them any more attention, and we can just let them go, which helps prevent them from setting off vicious cycles. And it reduces ruminating and dwelling on things which can play such a big role in depression.
And mindfulness helps us avoid acting in ways that promote depression. Because when we’re depressed we often act on automatic pilot and engage in habitual behaviors that aren’t that helpful to us and feed into our depression. But when we become more mindful of our behaviors and the impact they have on how we feel, this allows us to act more intentionally and in ways that can help relieve our depression.
And mindfulness is one of the best ways to regulate our moods and emotions, which can help reduce the severity of our depressed moods. And mindfulness also helps reduce the impact of the physical discomfort that often accompanies depression.
Now a common question is how long is this going to take? How long until i’m not feeling depressed anymore? And that’s a perfectly reasonable question, but there is no simple answer because it depends on so many factors, and everyone recovers at their own pace. Recovering from depression usually involves a series of small improvements over a number of weeks. And it may be difficult to notice changes in a positive direction certainly from day to day but even from week to week, because if we’re really depressed we can start to feel a little better, but still be really depressed.
For example we often rate how we feel on a scale from zero to a hundred. So let’s say right now we were to rate our depression at ninety five out of a hundred. Now over a couple of weeks we could experience a 20% reduction in how depressed we feel, and that would be great progress but our level of depression would still be at 76. And 76 out of 100 still feels really depressed.
So if we’re not looking for gradual changes and recognizing small incremental improvements in how we feel, it’s easy to just come away thinking, i’m still feeling so depressed, i’m not getting any better, when in reality we have started feeling better, and we’re already 20 less depressed than we had been a few weeks ago.
One of the reasons it’s easy to overlook these small changes is because when we feel a certain way we pay attention to things that confirm how we feel. So when we’re depressed we notice when we’re feeling lousy. And the times when we are feeling a little better can pass undetected because they fall outside of our depressed frames of reference. So it’s not even that we’re ignoring them, we may not even be aware of them.
And if we do notice some small improvements, because we have the tendency to be so negative and pessimistic when we’re depressed, we can just dismiss them: yeah but that doesn’t really count, it doesn’t make any difference, i still feel so depressed. And so our negative thoughts automatically kick in and we perpetuate the vicious cycle of depression.
So learning to recognize any improvements in how we’re feeling and to not just write them off is a big part of recovering from depression, because it helps shift our negative depressed mindsets, and it provides some positive or at least less negative information into the feedback loops and vicious cycles that are maintaining our depression.
And so a good way to notice these changes isn’t to try to compare how we feel today to how we felt yesterday, or even how we feel this week compared to last week, because those comparisons can be difficult to assess. Instead we want to try to be more aware in the moment when we’re having experiences that are at least a little better than usual. And this is important because when we’re depressed it often feels like we’re completely depressed all day every day. And even when we’re really depressed there are going to be moments in the day when we feel at least a little bit better. And so we need to notice any of these less negative or even slightly enjoyable moments, give these some recognition, because this helps to slow down or even reverse the vicious cycle of depression.
So one way to do this is an exercise called three good things. At the end of each day we look back over our day and write down three things that went well. And this can sound trivial and maybe a little patronizing, the idea that all we need to do is focus on things that go well and we’re not going to feel depressed anymore, but this doesn’t have to be the only strategy we use to relieve depression. And this video is just the introduction to my free self-help for depression course that has a couple of dozen other videos with strategies that can help in recovering from depression.
But there is research that correlates doing this exercise for just one week with increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression for up to six months. And the reason this works is because focusing on things that go well helps shift our mindsets away from the negative biases we have when we’re depressed—and can get a kind of tunnel vision where we only notice the negatives things that don’t go well, or don’t work out, and how terrible we feel—knowing we’re going to do this exercise at the end of the day helps us notice more things during the day that are going well and pay them some attention.
And there’s no need to wait until the end of the day to start reflecting on these things that go well. We can try to be aware of them in the moment as they’re happening. And so the sorts of things we can look for are any activity that gave us some pleasure, some small amount of enjoyment. We had coffee with a friend and it was actually kind of nice. We tidied up the kitchen a bit and we felt like we accomplished something. Or we noticed ourselves having a thought that was a little optimistic or hopeful or at least not as negative as they usually are. Or we gave ourselves some credit for something, or were a little kind to ourselves instead of being so self-critical.
Or we had an hour in the afternoon where we had a little more energy than usual. Or we went for a walk and felt a little better and maybe that lump in our throats went away for a while. Or at the end of the day we were able to relax for a bit and actually enjoy watching tv and follow what was going on.
The more we start to look for these types of things the more we’re going to start to find them we’re going to start to notice things we’d otherwise overlook and every time we do notice them we add some new data into our feedback loops that can slow down the vicious cycles and downward spirals that are contributing to our depression and even start to reverse them.
And because depression is accompanied by so much pessimism and so many negative thoughts, if we’re watching a video like this and we’re depressed, it’s common to have thoughts like this is stupid, this is never going to work, i don’t even know why i bother trying. Or like i often see in the comments, something like, this video sucks who’s the idiot making this garbage.
And if we went into watching this video with some hopeful thoughts or some ideas that it might help, or if we’re having some of these now, then that’s a positive sign because it shows that our thought processes aren’t completely negative and pessimistic. And having a less negative outlook and attitude is going to help us as we recover from depression
And even just watching a video like this helps, not necessarily because the content is so great, but because just doing anything for ourselves when we’re feeling depressed feels better than doing nothing. It’s an antidote to any feelings of helplessness or hopelessness we might have. And even if we’re still a little sceptical, it’s a sign that we believe it’s at least possible to start feeling better which in and of itself can improve our moods and help us start feeling better.
And depression is associated with a strong placebo response, perhaps because doing anything for ourselves when we’re depressed tends to make us feel a little better and helps counter our negative thoughts and pessimism. And so if we are trying to do things for ourselves that we think might help there’s a good chance we experience some placebo effect in addition to whatever other benefits we get from it.
So recovering from depression takes some work, and it takes some time, and it can be discouraging and frustrating, especially if we’re not able to notice the gradual progress we’re making, and if we’re not able to counter our natural inclination when we’re depressed towards pessimism and negativity. But if you’re still watching this video it shows that you’re not feeling completely hopeless or helpless which is a big step in recovering from depression.
Depression is considered a mood disorder, but it impacts much more than just our moods. While feeling sad and having a depressed mood is usually a big part of feeling depressed, depression also affects our thoughts, our behaviors, and our bodies.
Depression and Thoughts: When we’re depressed, we can experience an endless stream of negative thoughts, such as feelings of worthless and guilt, regrets, self-criticism, hopelessness and more. And we can find it difficult to focus or concentrate, which can interfere with our ability to work and study, or even read, watch television or carry on a conversation.
Depression and Behavior: When we’re depressed, we can lose interest in doing most, or all of the things we used to enjoy. It can be difficult to motivate ourselves to do anything because we have no desire, or lack the energy to do them. And when we do do things, they’re not as enjoyable as they used to be and don’t give us as much pleasure.
Depression and our Bodies: Depression can really affect our bodies. We may experience aches and pain, or uncomfortable feelings in our throats, chests, stomachs or somewhere else. And we can feel sluggish and slowed down, and everything just feels so hard because we’re so tired or have no energy.
In this course we’ll explore how to:
- Change our behaviours in ways that help lift depression
- Modify or replace negative thoughts in order to relieve depression
- Respond mindfully to our negative thoughts so they have less of an impact on our moods and don’t feed in to our depression
- Regulate our sadness and depressed moods so they become more manageable
- Reduce the effect of the physical component of depression
CBT for Depression
In CBT for depression, we focus on how our thoughts and behaviours contribute to depression. We learn how to change our behaviors in ways that help us feel less depressed:
- behavioral activation helps us become more active in ways that help up experience some satisfaction and pleasure
- behavioral experiments allow us to test our negative thoughts and beliefs and see that they’re not always accurate, and then make adjustments in how we think and act that improve how we feel
And we develop strategies to modify or replace our thoughts to make them less negative. This helps reduce depression through:
- cognitive restructuring to change or replace negative thoughts
- changing negative core beliefs
- behavioral experiments to reinforce our new ways of thinking
Mindfulness for Depression
Mindfulness can play an important role in managing depression. And although mindfulness is often associated with meditation, we don’t need to practice meditation in order to be mindful. In this course we’ll learn mindfulness-based approaches to treating depression we can use whether or not we meditate.
With mindfulness we don’t focus on changing the content of our negative thoughts like we do in CBT. Instead, we change how we relate to our thoughts. We become aware of our negative thoughts and acknowledge them. And then we just let these thoughts go, or allow them to be there without reacting to them in ways that initiate vicious cycles and downward spirals that can lead us to feel depressed. Being mindful of our thoughts also reduces the ruminating and dwelling that can play such a big role in depression.
Mindfulness helps us modify our behaviors. When we’re depressed we often act on automatic pilot and engage in habitual behaviors that feed into our depression. Becoming more mindful of our behaviors and their impact on how we feel allows us to choose actions that reduce depression.
Mindfulness is one of the best ways to manage and regulate our moods and emotions, which is important when we’re depressed. Mindfulness also helps reduce the effect of the physical discomfort that often accompanies depression. And mindfulness encourages acceptance and compassion, which combats feelings of worthlessness and negative thoughts about ourselves that are so common when we’re depressed.
Self-Help for Depression Course Contents
I’ll be adding new videos as well as revising some of the current ones on an ongoing basis, so subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss my new content when it comes out. If you’d like to support my work, please Buy Me a Coffee or join my Patreon.
Below is a list of the posts in this self-help for depression course. These links also appear in the sidebar of each post, or below the posts on mobile devices. There is some overlap with my courses on CBT and Anxiety. If you’ve already seen some of these videos, I recommend at least reading the text in each post, as in most cases it’s been updated to reflect how the videos apply to treating depression. Or watch the videos again to reinforce the concepts (and boost my view counts).
- What Causes Depression?
- Am I Depressed?
- 6 Tips to Treat and Manage Depression
- Introduction to CBT for Depression
- Behavioral Activation and Depression
- The STOP Exercise
- Thoughts Are Not Facts
- Automatic Negative Thoughts
- Cognitive Distortions and Depression
- All or Nothing Thinking
- Depression and Cognitive Restructuring and Reframing Thoughts
- Thought Records and Depression
- Thought Record Tips
- Behavioral Experiments and Depression
- Problem Solving, Action Plans and Depression
- How to Make Decisions
- Letting Thoughts Go
- Depression and Cognitive Defusion
- Learned Helplessness and Depression
- Pessimism, Optimism and Depression
- Increase Optimism with CBT
- Reducing Guilt and Shame
- Should Statements and Depression
- Emotion Regulation and Depression
- Physical Symptoms and Depression
- Depression and Relapse Prevention
- Mindfulness, Depression and Acceptance
- Negative Core Beliefs and Depression
- Changing Negative Core Beliefs
- Seasonal Affective Disorder